Grand plans … Wests Tigers chairman Nick Di Girolamo is keen to set up centres of excellence at Leichhardt and Campbelltown. Photo: Nick Moir
NICK DI GIROLAMO'S first act as Wests Tigers chairman could well do him out of the job.
The Australian Water Holdings chairman described the position as a privilege and has only been in the role since mid-December after replacing David Trodden as the Balmain-appointed representative. However, one of his top priorities is to instigate constitutional reform to a joint venture which has been, at times, an uneasy marriage between Balmain and Western Suburbs.
''We need to behave in unison to get the best possible outcome for Wests Tigers,'' Di Girolamo said. ''From a corporate perspective, the JV was executed in 1999. As night follows day, any agreement which has been around for more than a decade needs review.
''If you look at the annual rotation of the chairman, I don't think any leading corporate organisation would require the person at the helm of the organisation to rotate. I understand from a historical point of view why that might have been necessary in 1999, but it doesn't really make for good corporate governance. What you should be looking at is a three- to four-year tenure as a starting point.
''I am happy if it does me out of a job, as long as it means the right structure. If I'm the deputy chairman for three years and someone from the Wests group is the first chairman for the next three to four years, I'm happy because it's in the best interests of the Wests Tigers. That is of paramount importance.''
In his first interview since stepping into the chair, Di Girolamo revealed his blueprint for the Tigers. One of his long-term objectives is to set up centres of excellence at the club's spiritual homes. ''I'd like to see two academies,'' he said. ''If you look at Leichhardt Oval, you've got a great oval. It needs some maintenance, absolutely. But you could put an academy there, you've got the aquatic centre next door, you've got great grounds all around it. You could capture all of that inner west talent in that academy. And you could replicate it at Campbelltown. By having two centres of excellence, you are really looking after the youth. All under the banner of Wests Tigers.''
Of more immediate concern is re-signing captain Robbie Farah, who is off contract at the end of the season and several clubs, including Parramatta, are circling. It's understood the Tigers have tabled a lucrative deal for him to stay until the end of 2017. ''Nothing would give me greater satisfaction at this early stage of my tenure than to ensure our captain, Robbie Farah, will be our captain for life,'' he said. ''I want to make sure that our two leaders, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall, are happy. From a cultural perspective, they are interwoven in the fabric of the club. Unfortunately in this day and age not everyone can be a one-club man. But those two deserve the opportunity to be Tigers for life.''
Di Girolamo has plenty of experience in the corporate scene. He was one of the youngest lawyers to become a partner in a leading Sydney law firm, Colin Biggers & Paisley. For six years he chaired the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sydney, has overseen the delivery of $700 million in Sydney's northwest in his roles with Australian Water Holdings and is well connected politically. But the 42-year-old's biggest challenge could be to properly unite the Balmain and Wests factions under the Tigers banner. Despite protests from the Magpies, the Tigers will field just one NSW Cup side this year. ''Whilst I understand the importance of identity, having two State Cup teams has the potential to create a wedge at Wests Tigers level,'' he said. ''Having one brand is the most important thing for me. You don't want to see one of your shareholders getting flogged. We need to be in unison.''
He also weighed into the debate about Leichhardt Oval amid fears the boutique ground can't continue to host NRL games following the release of the state government's stadiums strategy. ''I think there will always be a place for suburban grounds but, having said that, the counter argument is centralisation with the costs involved,'' he said. ''I just don't think we're there yet. At the moment there's a need for suburban grounds like Leichhardt Oval and Campbelltown, where there is a great growth area.''
Australian Water Holdings' links to the Obeid family have been highlighted during the ICAC inquiry but Di Girolamo said he had always acted ethically in all of his business dealings. ''My reputation in the corporate world would speak for itself,'' he said.